While I’ve done my best the last couple of days to preview everything about Missouri (difficult, considering how much of their team, particularly the offense, is brand new), sometimes there’s just no substitute for the opinions of someone who follows them every single day.
Here’s the transcripts from a Q&A I had with Rock M Nation’s Sammy Stava:
1. Last season, Missouri won 5 games in a row and were looking quite competent until the wheels fell off against Vanderbilt and the Tigers averaged less than 10 points per game in 5 straight losses before a hollow redemption win against Arkansas to close the season. The defense finished the year in the top 25 in nearly every metric (most of which were better than Alabama’s defense), but the Missou offense... was really bad. In response, the school fired head coach Barry Odom, hired a Gus Malzahn protege as a head coach, and kept the defensive coordinator. In your (and the general fanbase’s) opinion, were these admin moves the correct direction to address the issues the team saw in 2019?
As you pointed out, Missouri’s defense wasn’t the problem last season. In fact, if the offense was just mediocre or slightly above average in the second half of the season – the record ends up a whole lot better than 6-6, and perhaps Barry Odom is still the head coach.
Of course, that didn’t happen, and there’s been a head coaching change. Missouri needed to go out and find a head coach with an offensive background because the Odom experience just wasn’t working out. However, there are three returning coaches from last season – all on the defensive side. Ryan Walters – who is an up and coming defense coordinator, defensive line coach Brick Haley has always had an impressive resume, and defensive backs coach David Gibbs is a turnover wizard. That bodes well for a defense that returns some key starters this season. All in all, I think these were the necessary moves and Drinkwitz made the right choices on the defensive front.
2. Advanced stats profile the 2019 Missouri defense as one that was an all-around elite run-stopping unit and great at forcing incomplete passes and getting receivers tackled. However, they had a mostly abysmal pass rush and had some issues with giving up the occasional explosive pass deep. You lose an elite defensive tackle in Jordan Elliot and a big chunk of depth at cornerback, but return one of the top linebackers in the country in Nick Bolton and a solid pairing of safeties. Will the overall profile of the defense be much the same as it was in 2019? How will they try to bolster the pass rush to take this unit from a great one to an elite one?
I think the Missouri defense has the potential to be similar to the success of 2019. Like I said earlier, all of the assistants from that return from last season are from the defensive side, and that could go well with the chemistry of key returning players. However, each unit of this defense have lost three huge contributors – Jordan Elliott on the defensive line, Cale Garrett in the linebacker position, and DeMarkus Acy at cornerback. For this pass rush to be great, they’re going to need senior Kobie Whiteside (who had a breakout season last year) to be a leader – and produce significantly better than Jordan Elliott did in 2019.
3. I don’t suppose you guys have any inside info on who the starting QB will be? Who are the options, who do you expect will be the starter, and, if it differs, who do you want to be the starter?
There’s a lot of unknown at the most important position for Missouri. That’s probably not great! After the transfer of Taylor Powell, the options at QB are TCU transfer junior Shawn Robinson, sophomore Connor Bazelak and freshman Brady Cook – but it’s ultimately down to Robinson and Bazelak now. We won’t officially know until Saturday night, but the main expectation is that Robinson is the guy. Out of those options, Robinson has the most experience and potential – and this is his chance to surprise some people after his stint with TCU didn’t quite work out too well.
4. Excluding Bolton and 10th year senior running back Larry Roundtree, can you give us a player or two on both offense and defense who could make some really game-changing plays?
On the offensive side of the ball, I’m really excited to see what Virginia Tech grad transfer wide receiver Damon Hazelton can do. Drinkwitz called him a “touchdown maker”, and Mizzou definitely needs one of those. Here’s hoping something clicks with Robinson and Hazelton this season. On defense, I’ll go with senior safety Tyree Gillespie – who has the potential to have a big year after landing on the preseason second team All-SEC.
5. Are there any true freshman slated to get playing time that you guys are particularly excited about?
No doubt, the biggest get in Eli Drinkwitz’s first recruiting class was cornerback Ennis Rakestraw – who chose Missouri over Texas, and…..Alabama! According to the Week 1 depth chart, he is listed as a starter at the CB positon, so that is very interesting. If programs like Texas and Alabama were recruiting this kid – he may have a bright future ahead. I’m really excited to see what he can bring.
Ed. Note: While many Bama fans viewed Rakestraw as mostly an afterthought as a 3-star player, I was particularly excited about his skills and hopeful he would wind up at Bama. We’ll never know for sure if he legitimately chose Missouri over Alabama or if it was more of an issue of Alabama running out of room in the class, but he’s absolutely a solid talent.
6. What’s your prediction for how this game goes?
If there was ever a “good” time to play Alabama – it’s Week 1 in this strange season. Mizzou and Drinkwitz also have absolutely nothing to lose in this game. Unfortunately, it won’t really matter. Missouri might make it weird and hang around for a quarter or two, but the inevitable happens and Alabama runs away with it. 34-14 Tide.
7. What’s your prediction for Missouri’s entire season?
I’ll say 3-7, but Missouri gets better as the season goes along – and the Tigers will be better than the record shows when the season is all said and done. Mizzou has arguable the toughest schedule in the country, perhaps behind Arkansas. The losses come to Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, and Mississippi State. Wins over Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and South Carolina.